Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - October 8, 2010

Homework: How much is too much?

Students, parents, teachers differ on the question, a survey says

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pick a kid at random and ask him if there's too much homework. You'll probably get the look that says, "Duh. Of course there's too much homework."

It shouldn't be too surprising then that results from a survey of students in grades 6 through 12 show 33% of students think there's "way too much," and 44% think there's "too much."

Some of those students say they spend more than four hours a night completing their homework. The survey, done last spring by the Pleasanton Unified School District, shows 14% saying they spend two-and-a-half to three hours nightly; 13% spending three to three-and-a-half hours; another 13% saying they spend three-and-a-half to four hours a night; and 18% who say their homework takes more than four hours.

A recent visit to Foothill High School showed kids on both sides of the spectrum.

Freshman Josh Miller said his homework generally takes about an hour, and he can usually wrap that up during school hours.

"I rarely get anything for sign language," Miller said. "For health, my health teacher says she doesn't believe in homework. She says I should be outside, exercising."

Keaton Housman, a senior, also said he gets "maybe" an hour, adding, "It's random."

While senior Derek Kanowsky said he gets "an OK amount," he added, "I know a few of my friends just get, like, a ridiculous amount."

For Kanowsky, that means about three hours a night.

Freshman Eura Bang said she averages about two hours a night.

"That's a lot of homework," Bang said.

But for her friends Troy Knatt and Diane Huang, two hours would be an easy night.

"I do five-ish. I do extracurricular stuff, so I have to squeeze that in," Huang said, explaining, "I get all A's and I'm in all honors (classes)."

Knatt, who's also on the football team, said he normally gets home from practice about 6:30 p.m., starts his homework at 7, and hopes to finish by 10.

"If I have a lot, I wake up at 5 in the morning," Knatt said.

The majority of the students surveyed, 52%, say they're "always" assigned homework over weekends. Although school has only been in session for less than two months and the volume could increase, the students interviewed at Foothill gave a variety of answers.

"English is the only class that I have consistent homework in," Miller said. "She doesn't give homework on Fridays or over the weekends. She says weekends are for family."

Again, Knatt and Huang said weekend homework isn't unusual, with Bang saying she sometimes gets weekend assignments, too.

The students surveyed also say they're often required to use a computer to complete their homework, that teachers seldom or never inform their parents about their assignments, and that teachers never or infrequently coordinate the scheduling of homework, tests or other major assignments.

"I think some teachers do," Kanowsky said.

The survey, however, doesn't take into account the use of the Internet, social networking sites, texting and cell phone use while students are doing homework.

A 2007 study from Cal State University Fresno concluded: "The Internet can be a source of education but specific sites or tools on the Internet may have little to no educational value and may actually distract and take time away from homework. Cell phones too have many benefits and have given parents a means by which to keep in contact with their child. However, parents may need to monitor their child's use."

Teachers say the amount of homework they give is "just right," according to the survey. Sixth- to 12th-grade teachers in the survey also said their students spend 15 to 30 minutes completing their assignments. However, if a student has five core subjects -- English, social studies, math, science and a language class -- along with an arts or music class, with each teacher assigning as much as 30 minutes of homework, that could easily top three hours a night.

"There are some teachers who think they're the only class that every student has, so they give them a lot of work," Kanowsky said.

That may be why parents seem to agree with their kids. For students in grades K-5, 55% of parents say the amount of homework is just right; 23% say there's too much; and 11% say there's way too much. From sixth grade on, though, those numbers jump, with 37% saying there's too much; and another 28% saying there's way too much.

But parents don't agree about how long it takes their kids to get through their assignments. While 14% say homework takes more than four hours, most parents say it generally takes one-and-a-half to three hours; with 15% saying one-and-a-half to two hours; another 15% saying two to two-and-a-half hours; and 15% saying two-and-a-half to three hours.

"It seems to me that everyone is coming from a very different vantage point, their own thoughts about what homework should be," said Jane Golden, Pleasanton schools' Director of Curriculum and Special Projects. "It seems to me that the parents and students are more in sync with each other than they are with the teachers. The parents and students are doing the homework, and the teachers are assigning it."

Golden said the survey is part of a year-long study of the homework question.

"We're just now beginning to have forums and focus groups to talk with parents, teachers and students about what the current issues are and what they'd like to see as possible changes to the policy," she said. "We're also going to be looking at research, and there's a quite a bit of research.

Golden explained that the amount of time it takes to do homework is only part of the question, and that the district will also look at research into what constitutes "effective" homework.

There's already a piece of news that may be welcomed by younger students and their parents.

"Quite a bit of research says there's actually little to no academic benefit to homework for the elementary grades," Golden said.

While school administration does its own homework, reviewing the current research, the district is looking for feedback, too.

"We want to hear from everybody. We want to hear from parents, we want to hear from teachers, we want to hear from students," Golden said. "We have no preconceived ideas."

Email her at jgolden@pleasanton.k12.ca.us.

District policy on homework

"The governing Board believes that homework contributes toward building responsibility, self-discipline and life-long learning habits and that time spent on homework directly influences students' ability to meet the District's academic standards."

Survey details

The survey last spring included five categories:

* K-5 parents -- 1,184 participants

* K-5 teachers -- 123 participants

* 6-12 students -- 680 participants

* 6-12 teachers -- 178 participants

* 6-12 parents -- 1,159 participants

--Pleasanton Unified School District Policy 6154, adopted June 3, 2003

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2010 at 6:40 am

There is definitely too much homework, especially for students taking honors and AP classes in high school.

But even in middle school, the Science teachers don't really teach but assign lots of homework, most of it busy work. My child told me the other day "I hate science" - my child made an A last year in Science (middle school) and yet does not feel there was real learning. I think the Science curriculum in middle school needs to be looked at: do kids really need all that homework? packets due? multiple "guess" tests every week?

Homework should have one goal: learning, and teachers must keep in mind that students take more than just one class. Each teacher assigns anywhere between 40 min to 1 hr of homework (depends on the teacher) - multiply that by at least 5 subjects, and it is simply too much homework. To that, add studying for a test (yes, the busy science work did not prepare the student for a test), and you have students going to bed late. I told my child to forget about making a good grade in Science, just get through the year, and that is not a good thing to say, but what is our option? Our child is frustrated, and we will do the best we can. This is not the first year or the only science teacher in middle school we have had this problem with.

A few teachers are reasonable and assign the right amount of homework.


Posted by Guest, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

Homework is suppose to be an extension of what was taught during the day and is suppose to be (according to what is currently taught in majority of credential programs)any classwork that is not finished. However, certain classes, such as Math, need consistent practice. Teachers do need to realize that after about 8 to 10 problems, most students tune out and don't pay attention to what they are doing.

I'm teaching in a district near Pleasanton, and for elementary schools, it's been made known to not assign more than 30 mins of HW a night, with 20-30 minutes of reading.

I do have to say, though, once you get into high school and are taking honors classes, it's prepping those students for college. If they think high school homework of 2-3 hours is a lot, on top of sports/other activities, they'll have a large wake up call once they start college. Aren't honors classes giving students college credits if they pass the AP tests? If so, then more HW than average is to be expected.


Posted by stop whining, a resident of Downtown
on Oct 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

Oh please, quit your complaining about everything. These are the same kids who will graduate college and then think they deserve a high level and high paying job just because they are so special. They will complain about the workload there too, and most will just not do it. If you wonder why so many young people entering the workforce are such losers, take a look at the whiners in the high schools.
Life is not just about video games and hanging with your friends.


Posted by Tea Party Patriot, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

I think it's pretty clear that American students lead the world in accomplishment. We need to find a way, then, to bring down the homework to more acceptable levels. Why be so rigorous when we're already doing so well? Let's get real, people, and lighten the load!


Posted by member, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm

My son had to write on essay if there was too much or not enough homework from a teacher who gave a huge amount of homework. To me it was just more busy work. It did not have any bearing on what she did with the class.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 6:00 pm

"If they think high school homework of 2-3 hours is a lot, on top of sports/other activities, they'll have a large wake up call once they start college. Aren't honors classes giving students college credits if they pass the AP tests? If so, then more HW than average is to be expected. "

The difference is that in College, students do not go to class every day but instead 2 or 3 times a week per subject (most colleges). The days students do not attend class, they can work on hwk. College is easier than high school because you do not go to class every day for one subject (I am not talking summer school but the regular school year). You also do not have to take 6 subjects per semester, many full time students limit their load to 5 subjects, and take summer school if needed (1 class per summer session). It is a lot easier - been there, done that.


Posted by Wow!, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Boy, what complainers! If an "Honors" class requires too much HW then don't take it...You can't have it both ways people - folks move to Pleasanton for the high-achieving schools, then complain there is too much HW, teachers expect too much blah blah...Apparently middle school teachers *cannot* assign homework over the weekend (i.e. assigned on Fri., due on Monday). Are you kidding me?! I had homework most weekends growing up beginning in the fourth grade. This was in another east bay high-achieving district - no parents ever complained. If a kid's extra-curriculars do not mesh well with the homework load, priorities need to be set within the family. Don't blame the school. Your child's *job* right now is to be a student. Developing time management, prioritizing skills and a work ethic NOW will serve them well in the future...


Posted by Really?, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 10:24 pm

"My son had to write on essay if there was too much or not enough homework from a teacher who gave a huge amount of homework. To me it was just more busy work. It did not have any bearing on what she did with the class."

Persuasive writing is a California state standard. If this is a typical example of what parents here are calling busy work, then you need to familiarize yourself with what are the required standards that must be accomplished at each grade level. Teachers are not just assigning random work, they are following a very specific, structured guidelines.

I'm curious to hear if you spoke to this teacher? I'm wondering how you know what "bearing" this assignment had on what she did. If more parents would communicate with their children's teachers instead of making assumptions about their work, these worries could be eliminated.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 6:39 am

"If an "Honors" class requires too much HW then don't take it"

Regular classes give just as much homework, except it is different type of homework. It is not just honors classes giving too much homework.

Middle school is giving too much homework as well, depends on the teacher. Some students get no homework at all, and some get quite a bit, there is a disconnect here.

Science in middle school is especially bad as far as homework goes, and the kids have to pretty much do the learning at home, on top of doing busy work that does not help with the learning. I have stayed up with my child going over concepts they should have taught at school but didn't, I wish the teachers focused on learning rather than giving so much work. The teachers don't even grade the work, they have their student TA stamp it for them and the students correct their own work! It looks like even the teacherscannot handle the amount of work they give!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 6:54 am

I must say that there are some excellent teachers in Pleasanton, they give the right amount of homework, and the assignments are quality work that is meant for learning.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

Stacey is a registered user.

This thread appears to validate the results of the PUSD homework survey that shows a rather large disconnect in the perceptions of reality between teachers, students, and parents. We should be asking not about the details of homework, but about why there is such a difference in perceptions.


Posted by Teacher, a resident of Birdland
on Oct 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Thank you Resident!!


Posted by Comments, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Couple of comments:

"I think it's pretty clear that American students lead the world in accomplishment." Really? Then why is everyone talking about how horrible education is in this country? Can you give an example of how American students lead the world in accomplishment?

"But even in middle school, the Science teachers don't really teach but assign lots of homework, most of it busy work. My child told me the other day "I hate science" - my child made an A last year in Science (middle school) and yet does not feel there was real learning. I think the Science curriculum in middle school needs to be looked at: do kids really need all that homework? packets due? multiple "guess" tests every week?" I couldn't agree with you more. I"m betting your child is in 8th grade. Did you know that the 8th grade Science teachers have to cover 2 semesters worth of education in 1 semester? Do you know why? Because the district had to add a Health course to cover topics such as sex ed that weren't being taught in the home.

And an essay being busy work? Are you kidding me? You obviously do not know the CA standards.

Please educate yourselves, people.


Posted by Really?, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Its like the saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink... no matter how well I teach a subject in class, inevitably there is a child who is not paying attention for what ever reason. This is the case for the active learning lessons as well as the lectures, which both types of teaching have their purpose. There comes a point where the responsibility of learning is on the child. The mixed perceptions that I believe Stacey mentions many times comes from how the child feels about learning. They may not care for the subject/topic, they may have not listened to the lesson in class, or they just don't want to do it- which is most often the case. (At least as I watch my own children!) Then as parents, we see a distorted picture based on what their child is saying.

Again, I will reiterate the importance of speaking with a teacher that you feel is either giving too much homework or busy work. Find out what standards it is covering, and the skills the teacher is hoping they will gain from it. A parent asked me this question and I was able to let them know that their child was not on task in class so all time I gave to start the assignments was wasted. The child wasn't listening when I said to get working, or when I pulled them for small group instruction (since I assumed they didn't understand the work since they were not doing it) At home the child told a completely different story about what was going on in class. I'm glad this parent took the time to talk to me rather than just say my work was not important.


Posted by Tea Party Patriot, a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

How can you people doubt for a minute that the USA is #1? What are you guys teaching our kids, then?

This liberal unAmericanism must stop! Please, please, please, people - vote for a Tea Party candidate so we can bring an end to this socialized teaching going on! We can no longer afford to let unions drive policy when teachers are clearly not teaching American Exceptionalism or the Constitution in their classes.

Consider your local Tea Party recommended candidates: Harmer, Fred Watson, Carly Fiorina - they'll put America first in our schools!

Imagine an education system WITHOUT Darwinism and Global Warming being taught as "science". Imagine bringing prayer and the free expression of Christianity returning to classrooms! Imagine pride in our fatherland being restored in the youth!

You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us and the De-e-e-ems will be done!


Posted by Maria, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 6:38 pm

"How can you people doubt for a minute that the USA is #1?"

Umm... Web Link


Posted by Tea Party Patriot, a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Spare me your links! Haven't you ever heard of "truthiness?"


Posted by To Patriot, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

The definition of truthiness (as you spelled it) is: informal (of a belief, etc) the quality of being considered to be true because of what the believer wishes or feels, regardless of the facts.

[portion removed]


Posted by Kerry Dickinson, a resident of Danville
on Oct 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Kerry Dickinson is a registered user.

Homework is such a hot button topic that most of the comments about it are left anonymously. I applaud the PUSD for surveying parents, students and teachers on this topic. I write a blog about homework and most of my posts end up being about effective parenting and re-thinking education, because when we start conversations about homework we end up talking about much more. Please check out - East Bay Homework Blog: Web Link
I was one of the parents on the SRVUSD homework task force that rewrote the policy a couple years ago. My main belief about homework is: less is more, and if a teacher is going to assign it, it better be meaningful and really turn the students on to whatever it is they are learning. If this isn't true, it shouldn't be assigned. Not everyone agrees with me, but there is plenty of research to back up claims that assigning more homework isn't helping students become bright, creative, innovative critical thinkers of the future.
Also check out the educational documentary "Race to Nowhere" that also examines this topic. Web Link


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